Concerns over the schools' pay-to-play athletic programs commanded much of the conversation at the town manager's public hearing on the budget Wednesday night, held at
High school track coach Corey Bernier began the conversation, stressing that proposed fees of $325 and $225 per sport at the high school and middle school would be detrimental to the sports program, students and their families.
"Somebody paid for you to come to school. Things need to change because this is an unfair burden put on these families," he said, adding that there is no cap for families with multiple students or those who play more than one sport.
Tolland High School senior and athlete Emily Howard also spoke out against the rising costs of sports participation.
"The one thing I can do in this town is participate in school clubs. To think after raising it to $325 that many students won't be able to have that experience that I had is upsetting to me," she said.
Another student also presented a petition with 525 signatures protesting the proposed rates.
After many residents expressed frustration with the program, Town Manager Steven Werbner suggested that the participants also share their concerns at a school board meeting. He said that while the town council dictates how much money the schools receive in the budget before it goes to referendum, the council has no ability to state how that money should be spent.
School board Vice-Chairperson Robert Pagoni also addressed the concerns, welcoming all residents to school board meetings and encouraging them to come with questions and any money-saving suggestions they may have. Pagoni also stressed that all of the money raised from pay-to-play fees is used to fund the sports programs.
Members of the Tolland Public Library Foundation and library advisory board also commented at the hearing, asking the council to reconsider a proposed reduction of library hours and a cut of nearly $5,000 to the library's books and materials budget.
"Library director Barbara Pettijohn will be dropping two series of reference books and a magazine database," said library advisory board member Susan Simons. "This is the wrong time to diminish the library and the public's access to it. In an economic downturn, families can save money on reading materials by checking them out for free at the library."
Simons and Tolland Public Library Foundation members also mentioned that restricting library hours will make it more difficult for the library to hold useful programming for citizens, which they said has been well attended. They added that the recommended budget calls for the library to close an hour early for two nights a week to save expenses.
Before the comments, Werbner also , explaining how he came to his present recommendation, which he said aims to preserve services while taking into account the town's limited revenue increases.
"The impact of a higher budget, in my opinion, is the inability to have any chance of a unified budget and would leave the ultimate level of funding to a prolonged series of budget referendums and to be lower will impact services on both the town and BOE at levels which I think most residents would find unacceptable," he said.
And while residents voiced their concerns, many also thanked the council, school board and town staff for their hard work and collaboration during such a demanding process.
The town council will hold a special meeting Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at town hall.
The town manager's recommended 2012-2013 budget is available in full on the town's website. The (as opposed to the town manager's 3 percent) is on the school district's website.
For previous budget coverage and upcoming budget dates, check out .